BOBBY BROWN'S CAPE BRETON SYMPHONY FIDDLERS
The group was formed in December 1974 as a regular part of a new CTV weekly series called “The John Allan Cameron Show”, the show was aimed at the folk music scene at that time, the star of course being John Allan Cameron, a wonderful Cape Breton guitar playing folk singer – a great entertainer!
The producers of the show put me in charge of what was to become the now famous Cape Breton Symphony fiddlers. I was charged to research, arrange, and manage the new group of four fiddlers who were (alphabetically) John Donald Cameron, Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald, Wilfred Gillis, and Jerry Holland, all of them great Cape Breton fiddlers in their own right. We started the season with one spot each week, but proved so popular that the performances were increased to two spots each week and some specialty musical backing for John Allan’s songs and 12 string instrumentals.
The initial shows were taped in Montreal – 26 shows per year. As the show increased in popularity, Bobby Brown and The Cape Breton Symphony Fiddles were to become a major contributor. For reasons unbeknownst to our group, John Allan sought his fame and fortune with national television. Although the show was a great success on the CTV Network it moved to CBC, where the show format underwent some dramatic changes and was taped live in concert form with live audiences. Through the years, many of the great folk musicians guested on the show, such as Anne Murray, Rita MacNeil, Catherine McKinnon, Valdy, Stan Rogers, Tommy Makem, to mention just a few. As time moved along, The Cape Breton Symphony Fiddlers often accompanied John Allan on his live concerts and tours.
During this time, we recorded the Cape Breton Symphony Fiddle I for Glencoe Music (which was John Allan Cameron’s record label), our first album recorded in 1977. Later he was to sign the rights to Brownrigg and we produced our next album, Cape Breton Symphony Fiddle II. Our other two albums were a mixture of the Scottish Accent band and the Cape Breton Symphony Fiddlers and special guests, made specifically for the Scottish market to coincide with our tours: Canada On Tour and Salute to Scotland. These records were picked up and leased by a prominent Scottish label – Ross Records – a friendly liaison which lasted for 25 years. Our final album was the Great Cape Breton Company.
The tune Timour the Tartar which was the signature tune of The Cape Breton Symphony Fiddlers from the John Allan Cameron Show on CTV television, closed all our recordings, shows and concerts.
After the John Allan Cameron Show ended, the Cape Breton Symphony appeared on the Tommy Hunter Show 6 times, the Ronnie Prophet Show, the annual Shelbourne Fiddle Contest, CBC Radio broadcast (8 times) and numerous appearances all over Nova Scotia, USA and across Canada.
As often happens in long-running groups, musicians tend to change for many different reasons. Through the years, our fiddler members did change and brought the arrival of Sandy MacIntyre, Buddy MacMaster, Gordon Cote and Gerry Pizzariello, thus maintaining the group at four-strong.
I then thought it worthwhile to feature the Cape Breton Symphony Fiddlers on the road, which was really a Celtic Variety Shows, with my Scottish Accent band, Celtic Singers and step dancers.
In 1980 we launched our first tour of Scotland with the entire ensemble for our variety show. Only two of us really knew what was going on – taking our music to the cradle of Scottish music as we knew it – that was myself and drummer Fred Collins. We were the only two that were nervous when we hit the stage – being Scottish born. That tour included many performances in the Orkneys, Shetlands, Edinburgh theatres, etc. For the size of the group we had it became very grueling but the emotional rewards were magic. The Scottish people embraced our endeavours with great enthusiasm. We were to return to Scotland 2 more times as a complete group, but the fiddlers and I also returned to Scotland on two other separate occasions to perform. We also traveled to Germany, Ireland, and England over the years. We also did radio broadcasts in Britain – BBC recorded live 4 times, Radio Forth and Radio Fay.
When the TV show ended the fiddlers and I continued to perform all over Canada and US with and without my now close friend, John Allan Cameron. Between 1980 and 1993, I arranged many concert tours for our groups in Europe, which included Scotland, England, Ireland, the Shetland Isles, and Germany.
As the face of Celtic music changed over the years, we continued to perform until it was no longer practical. We retired the group in the late 1990’s and now look back with a sense of pride and accomplishment. What a ride!